Portland, Oregon

June, 2009

We stayed in an RV park in Wilsonville, just south of Portland, for a few days. This gave us time to explore some of the sights in the area. (We also did a little shopping, took care of some financial business, and washed clothes. It's not all fun and games.) As usual, there were a huge number of possible activities and we had to choose just a few of them. Here are the places and events we chose to attend:

— Oregon Museum of Science & Industry

We spent a day at the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry. When we arrived, the lobby was packed with people buying ticktets. After lunch things were a little quieter (see photo #1, at left). The Museum is located in a commercial area along the banks of the Willamette River, just south of the Interstate 5 Bridge. The OMSI is primarily geared toward educating children about science. The exhibits are mostly tailored for the young ones, and are very interactive. There are a few static exhibits, like this dinosaur skull.

Our favorite part of the Museum was the USS Blueback, a decommissioned US Navy submarine. The Blueback is a diesel-electric submarine, which is beautifully preserved and available for public tours. The tour includes much of the submarine, including crew quarters and wardroom, the radio room, engine and battery rooms, the galley, control rooms, and the torpedo room. The submarine's massive propellor is on display as part of a memorial to lost submarines.

— Allstate Festival of Balloons

The City of Tigard, Oregon, hosts the Allstate Festival of Balloons each year. It happened on the weekend we were in town, so we drove to Tigard on a Friday morning to watch the balloons being launched at dawn. As it turned out, the weather was rainy and the wind was blowing too strongly for the balloons to launch. They did inflate the balloons (see photo #2), while keeping them tethered to the ground. This actually gave us a really great chance to see the balloons up close while they kept them on the ground. For the pilots, it was actually a significant effort to keep the balloons under control. They needed to maintain lift to keep the balloon vertical, while keeping a lot of ballast (people) in the basket to keep from lifting off the ground. The wind kept them on their toes, creating lift as it blew over the tops of the bags and pushing the balloons around from side to side. After about a half hour, the pilots brought them all down again.

The process of inflating the balloons begins with one or more large fans blowing air into the bag to open the bag partially. This allows the pilot to inject hot air into the balloon from the propane burners without burning the fabric. Here is a closeup of the burners on a fully inflated balloon. Periodically, additional hot air must be added to the balloon to maintain the necessary lift. In flight, the balloon is steered only by selecting an altitude where the wind is blowing in the direction you would like to go. Balloon pilots need to have a really good sense of the environment in which they operate, much like sailors.

— Wilsonville

Heading northeast from Wilsonville, we made a loop through the surrounding countryside. This is farming country, producing a variety of crops. The area is also home to many very expensive estates, with huge houses and horse barns. The rural roads were narrow and had no shoulder, so Jim wasn't able to stop to take pictures very often. Here is the entrance to one of the many elegant homes we saw during our trip (photo #3). Along the way, we happened upon the Canby Ferry. It is electrically powered, operates during daylight hours only, and charges $2.00 per car. It is surprising that there are any of these ferries still operating in the United States, but you can occasionally find them in quiet little places like this.

We woke up on Sunday morning to some rather loud engine noises, and walked out to see what was happening. What we found was a work crew from Portland General Electric stringing cable on some very tall steel towers. They were using a helicopter to feed a rope through a pulley attached to the insulator on each pylon arm. The rope is then used to pull through a steel wire, and then the electrical cable.

We arrived as the helicopter was refueling in the nearby Costco parking lot. The pilot then took off and proceeded with the installation of the last line. He had to fly sideways to pull the rope from one tower to the next. At each tower, he would hover and manuever to thread the line into a pulley on the end of the insulator. Once the line was engaged, he would fly on to the next tower. It was a fascinating operation to watch, and must require immense skill and concentration to perform. A great beginning to our last day in the Portland area.

— return to the 2009 Journal Archive.